Sports

FOULS, FATALITIES & FERVOR

FOULS, FATALITIES & FERVOR

11ICONIC MOMENTS FROM LATINO WORLD CUP HISTORY

Illustrations by Christian Cañibe.

Soccer is an illness that nearly everyone has succumbed to. A fever that spreads quickly in the summer heat, the prognosis is poor. After all, the ball is everywhere: in the streets, in the parks, in the bars. Latinos are especially vulnerable; we measure our lives in four year intervals. We remember the girlfriend we had two World Cups ago, the ridiculous haircut we were sporting the World Cup before that, and our earliest memories are of Diego Armando Maradona’s mane slicing the air as he left his victims in the dust many summers ago. Tell me how many World Cups you’ve seen and I’ll tell you how old you are.

Every four years a soccer pitch becomes the world’s axis. People stop working, studying, breathing even, and entire cities watch paralyzed as the ball rolls. In these moments, the triumphs and frustrations of 23 players become those of a nation, etched indelibly in our collective consciousness. Time may pass, but whenever we revisit those moments, our very bones throb again like they did with that goal. Or that loss.

That’s why we asked 11 writers from each of the Latin American teams (plus Spain) participating in Brazil’s 2014 World Cup to search their memories for the most lucid, frustrating, or exciting moments they experienced with their national team. We turned these memories into a cromo, like the ones we collected as children.

This is the album of our lives.


Mexico

By Pablo Duarte
Mexico vs Bulgaria.
July 5th, 1994. Giants Stadium, New Jersey, USA.

Four shooters and a goalkeeper decided the fate of modern Mexican football one summer day during the 94 World Cup. Hyperbole, in this case, is justified. New Jersey must have still smelt of fireworks on the evening of July 5th. Bulgaria and Mexico, competing for a spot in the quarterfinals, had tried in vain to gain an edge: both teams scored once and not again until after the 120th minute, when the penalty shots began. Retelling this tragedy with tedious embellishment, in this case, is warranted. Mexico’s four chosen shooters were Alberto García Aspe, Marcelino Bernal, Jorge Rodríguez and Claudio Suarez. They could have easily been called the Sullen, the Sharp Shooter, the Unknown and the Righteous; our goalie was old Quirky, aka Jorge Campos.

For the first try, the Sullen one took two steps back, waited for the whistle and kicked. His shot sailed high and right over the crossbar, a good two feet away. Immediately, the Sullen one grabbed his hair with both hands, fists clenched in furious disbelief. Chosen no doubt for his impassive demeanor, for his surefooted reliability, he knew he had let the country down.

Good old Quirky, however, managed to pick up the pieces and stopped Bulgaria’s opening and well placed shot. Mexico and Bulgaria trade misses: still 0-0.

Four shooters and a goalkeeper decided the fate of modern Mexican football one summer day.

The Sharp Shooter –whose most noticeable quality besides his powerful right leg might have been his hairdo– crossed himself and waited. Half Siouxie, half Ziggy Stardust, he seemed unsteady. His shot was embarrassing. It was as if he were kicking the ball to a small child, without pace or malice: even the Bulgarian goalkeeper seemed surprised at such an easy shot. No mames, said the Sharp Shooter when the camera closed up on him.

Good old Quirky tried to raise his right hand but the shot was high and powerful. He was unable to stop it. Bulgaria was on top, 1-0.

The Unknown was next. His mustache was perfectly trimmed and hugged his upper lip; stonefaced, stocky and decided. His shirt, too big, flapped a little as he ran towards the ball. He struck it solidly but artlessly. The shot hit the Bulgarian keeper in the stomach. Puta madre, said the Unknown. No one knew what to expect of him.

Good old Quirky guessed where the shot was going, but given his 5’7 frame, couldn’t get there. Bulgaria increased its lead, 2-0.

The Righteous one, the one who could do no wrong, a central defender, finally scored. At least we had that one. With a shot that fooled the keeper but was not at all well-placed, the Righteous one put us on the board. But, to no effect, really; just to let us know we could have done better and we did not.

Bulgaria won the game in the next shot.

Because a penalty shot is less a test of skill than a test of character, a part of our identity was sealed with that game. Our national team has spent the past four World Cups trying to wash that stench off, and they have not been able to do it. Every time we reach the second stage, we are sent away in heartbreaking fashion by our rivals, every time there is a sense we might be able to make it this time, but we can’t. On display that July evening was our inability to outlast our rivals, to withstand the pressure: they choked and we choked with them.


Bulgaria won the game in the next shot

Because a penalty shot is less a test of skill than a test of character, a part of our identity was sealed with that game. Our national team has spent the past four World Cups trying to wash that stench off, and they have not been able to do it. Every time we reach the second stage, we are sent away in heartbreaking fashion by our rivals, every time there is a sense we might be able to make it this time, but we can’t. On display that July evening was our inability to outlast our rivals, to withstand the pressure: they choked and we choked with them.

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Chile

By Enrique Winter
Chile vs Italia.
June 11, 1998. Parc Lescure, Bordeaux, FR.

After sixteen years, Chile is finally back at a World Cup — France in ‘98. Expectations are running high, amplified by the Za-Sa duo, who scored most of the goals during the qualifying round. “Bam-Bam” Zamorano plays for Inter Milan and is a survivor of the team that was punished nearly a decade ago, when “Cóndor” Rojas’ blade cut clean through a brilliant generation. His partner in the attack, “Matador” Salas, has not yet landed in Europe, but maintains a torrid romance with River Plate’s hinchada, which each Sunday goes hoarse shouting “Chileeeeeeeenooooo, Chileeeeeenoooo” at the top of its lungs from the Monumental of Buenos Aires.

The debut is in Bordeaux, against Italy, and Chile goes in hard. The Azzurri wall themselves in, and all it takes is “Matador” Salas losing the ball on the edge of the box for Vieri to intervene — a counterattack 10 minutes into the game. With Chile’s rival ready to hang onto the crossbar for the remaining 80 minutes — a very Italian move — a heroic win seems almost impossible. But Salas is particularly inspired and wants to throw history over his shoulder; after a miraculous rebound, he ties the score for the first half. Then, four minutes into the second half, he flings his small frame up for a header to the corner, beating Pagliuca, who can’t stop the cheers of an entire country. The minutes pass, and the miracle begins to seem possible, given that the rival doesn’t have the ball and doesn’t know how to pull out a tie.

Chile doesn’t win, at best it ties. Chile doesn’t know how to win. Chile hasn’t won a single game in a World Cup since 1962.

It’s moments like these when the emergency phone calls from FIFA begin, and Nigerian referee Lucien Bouchardeau answers. Minute 85: the ball half a foot away from Ronald Fuentes bounces off his arm and Bouchardeau calls a nonexistent penalty. Roberto Baggio shoots with a buddhist like levelheadedness and evens the score. Years later, Joseph Blatter will recognize having paid Bouchardeau off for other favors, and the same referee, in an act of contrition, will apologize to Chile in 2007. But right now we’re in 1998 and Italy must win their group in order to avoid facing Brazil in the second round.

Facing their next rival, Austria, the Za-Sa duo scores, but Chile can’t beat its destiny: at the last minute the whole defense wilts onto the grass, allowing Vastic to shoot and score a goal as beautiful as it is painful. Then the collective memory awakens. FIFA is not to blame, Chile is. Chile doesn’t win, at best it ties. Chile doesn’t know how to win. Chile hasn’t won a single game in a World Cup since 1962. And that was a home game, so Chile hasn’t won a single away game at a World Cup since 1950 — they won just the one game, and we all know one is none. Chile won two games in 1930 but that was so long ago that nobody remembers. Chile doesn’t win. Chile can’t win.

The last game of the round arrives and Chile faces Biyik of Cameroon and the debutant Samuel Eto’o. Though it starts off winning, once again, Chile has to settle for a tie. We celebrate three ties and qualifying for the second round anyway, because Latin America celebrates everything, even at its southernmost tip, behind the cold mountain range of the Andes.

The rest of the story is well-known: the rival is Brazil, World Champion, and our goalie “Cabeza de Muela” Tapia dives into the goalbox four times to stop two goals from Cesar Sampaio and two more from Ronaldo.

Regarding this World Cup, sports journalists will say, between the sounds of applause: “We played better than ever, and we lost as usual.” And the thing is, with the exception of our home game, they could have been talking about any of our World Cups.

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COLOMBIA

By Juan José Ferro
Colombia vs USA.
June 22, 1994. Rose Bowl, Los Angeles, USA.

Colombia was going to win USA’s World Cup. It wasn’t a hunch. It was a sure thing. We were already champions before any of the players even got on the plane. Four years earlier, the Colombian team had finally returned to a World Cup after decades of absence. The whole country celebrated getting into the round of 16, where Cameroon swiftly crushed our dreams. At least we didn’t lose to Germany; after a tie in the 90th minute, the team made up of Leonel Álvarez, Rincón, Valderrama and Higuita left with the consolation prize that comforts countries who don’t habitually qualify for World Cups: not having lost against the champion. Four years passed and Colombia was ready to give the championship another shot.

Colombia was going to win the US World Cup because its team was more experienced, and it had qualified memorably: undefeated and with a 5-0 victory against Argentina at the Monumental de Núñez (a date that became like a second Independence Day; September 5th, 1993). Back then Pelé’s opinion still mattered: when he picked Colombia as his favorite, the world began to believe that the Championship was ours too.

Back then Pelé’s opinion still mattered: when he picked Colombia as his favorite, the world began to believe that the Championship was ours too.

Then reality complicated our fiction. The game against the host was the key to advancing in the competition. Earlier, at our debut, Colombia lost 2 to 1, playing quite badly against a Romanian team that later proved to be much more powerful than they seemed. We were putting everything on the line at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. For the first 35 minutes, our match against the Americans was going poorly — but we were even. Then the unthinkable happened. Colombians remember the following sequence of events with the precision of nightmares: the goalkeeper, Oscar Córdoba, attempted to intercept a center pass and his defense, Andrés Escobar, tried to deflect it with the tip of his foot. The ball rolled slowly into the goal as Córdoba tried, in vain, to retrace his footsteps, instead falling like a movie character being gunned down. When replayed all own goals are absurd, but none should be this tragic. Colombia lost the game 2-1 and was able to beat Switzerland 2-0 when it no longer mattered. Colombia, which thought itself World Champion since that night in Buenos Aires, ended up going home early and without a crown.

Or, not necessarily home. The players were advised not to return to Colombia directly, as the fervent hopes of a nation had boiled over into rage. But Andrés Escobar wanted to return to spend a few days with his girlfriend. Rumor has it that Milan had him tied down even before the World Cup. Upon his arrival, Escobar wrote a piece for the country’s most popular newspaper, apologizing to the fans and taking the opportunity to demand more respect for the players. Viewed rationally, his article was a way of reminding us of the obvious: it’s just a game. A few days later, Andrés Escobar went out for a drink with some friends, and encountered a group of people making fun of the own goal. Escobar left to avoid a fight, and that’s where, in the parking lot of an unremarkable bar, he was shot six times at point blank range by the bodyguard of two minor drug dealers. Although justice was meted out and the shooter was sentenced, the motives were never sufficiently understood. People still talk about the money the drug mafia had invested in World Cup bets, believing that no one deserved victory more than Colombia, a country where soccer hadn’t been a game in years.

Escobar’s article ended with this: “I’ll see you soon, because life doesn’t end here.”

Andrés Escobar died July 2nd, 1994. That day, in the World Cup that was still being played, Germany beat Belgium and Spain beat Switzerland.

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URUGUAY

By Leonardo Cabrera
Uruguay vs Ghana.
July 2, 2010. Soccer City, Johannesburg, SAF.

July 2nd, 2010 was a Friday — a partially cloudy night in Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s 8:30 p.m., and the game between Uruguay and Ghana is about to begin. 84,000 spectators are in the Soccer City Stadium; open to the night sky and punctuated by the flashes of thousands of cameras and smartphones, it looks like a giant glazed donut sprinkled with shredded coconut. In Montevideo, Uruguay, it’s 3:30 p.m. The afternoon is the type of translucent gray that only a very specific type of cold is able to produce. The streets are empty. The breeze moves the flags that have started appearing in windows, on balconies and rooftops throughout June. Circular logic is relentless, this is important because matters to us.

The replay explains everything: Suárez stopped the ball with his hand.

Ghana is the only African representative to reach quarterfinals and, in a way, the favorite to qualify for semifinals, something that no team from their continent has ever done before. To qualify they must first beat Uruguay, the South American team whose glories have begun to get moldy over the decades. The world that witnessed Uruguay’s triumphs has disappeared. A long 40 year stretch separates its last achievement from this moment, when a rare combination of planning, talent and good fortune have placed it under the spotlight once more. The lighting in the Soccer City Stadium turns the grass an unreal shade of green. In order to play on this type of stage the players need a level of concentration closer to self-hypnosis, one that allows them to partially forget the glare of hyper-attention on them and what that hyper-attention means for each action they carry out. They need to wrap themselves in a membrane that filters out everything not game-related. That seems to be the secret of great players. If you think about it, it’s an almost childlike quality. Let’s talk about Luis Suárez. Suárez doesn’t need to create any membrane because he was born with one. There is something obviously childish about the way that Suárez plays the game. All you have to do is look at the way he gestures. Look at his outbursts, the way he protests with such conviction that the gets the ref to call a foul that he faked, see his childish whims always on the verge of a fit when he tries the same move too many times against a mark who is expecting that very move; observe his sulkiness in the face of failure or unearthly elation in the face of success; remind yourself of the times he has bitten a rival and ask yourselves if those aren’t the antics of a child. Keep that in mind.

The game between Uruguay and Ghana is 1 to 1. Overtime is about to end. Uruguay dreams of the round of penalties like a teenager dreams of love. On the right of the African attack, a Ghanian falls to the ground without being touched by anyone. The referee calls out the foul a few feet from the area. Minute 120. Everything is happening so fast. The game stops and nobody is quite sure what happened. The ball didn’t go in, that’s all we know. Suárez is expelled from the game. Ghana gets a penalty kick. The replay explains everything: Suárez stopped the ball with his hand. Suárez, the boy who doesn’t think of the cameras, who has forgotten about the people in the stands, of the racket of the horns, who has stopped seeing himself on the enormous screens of the stadium and who doesn’t seem to know how many televisions around the world are broadcasting his image. This Suárez lives in a world of simple concepts: the ball must go into their goal and not into ours, it all comes down to that.

Already sent off, Suárez hides his face to cry. A camera follows him and stays on him. Meanwhile, on the alien-like green grass, the density of the moment continues, as if the childish vibe of the moment made luck cringe.

The game is all of these things.

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ECUADOR

By Juan José Rodinás
Ecuador vs England.
June 25, 2006. Gottlieb-Diamler-Stadion, Stuttgart, GER.

The 2006 World Cup was supposed to be exceptional for Ecuador.
It wasn’t entirely.

As Galeano said: “the Ecuadorian team played nicely, but didn’t get far.”

But it did make us, Tricolor fans, dream. As a matter of fact, when Carlos Tenorio, El Demoledor, made a shot that hit the crossbar at minute 19 of the quarterfinals match against England, the team’s history split in two.

Once again, victory was so close we could taste it, but just out of reach (there’s a reason the classic teams of Ecuador are Barcelona — with a name that reminds you of a tropical and unusual Catalonia — and the Aucas, frequent guests of the most suffered defeats and successes). This time, however, they were different colors.

Put another way, it was like being beat by Kasparov at chess, by Marshal Rommel in the desert, or by Arnaut Daniel in a poetry slam.

Roberto Bonafont said it: “stylish pirouette, rococó play.”

That not-quite-a-goal finally had the texture of possibility, not of failure.

It was like dating — if only for a second — the hottest girl in the neighborhood. Or the hottest guy.

Put another way, it was like being beat by Kasparov at chess, by Marshal Rommel in the desert, or by Arnaut Daniel in a poetry slam.

The field finally got big enough to house the heart of the Ecuadorian futboleros. Now the emotions driven home by all of the earlier goals from Kaviedes, Méndez, Delgado and Tenorio himself were a symbolic build-up, because they had an obstacle that we realized was breakable.

A flimsy string that represented everything to be won.

2014 may well be the year to break it.

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ARGENTINA

By Milton Läufer
Argentina vs West Germany.
June 29, 1986. Estadio Azteca, D.F., MX.

On June 29, 1986, around 12:23 in the Azteca Stadium of Mexico City, an unknown player was leaning on Diego Armando Maradona to receive a center pass from Jorge Burruchaga, after the German goalie Schumacher stepped too far out of the goalbox. It was the first goal of a game that the Argentine team would eventually win by the skin of their teeth, converting them (for the last time to date) into World Champions. It was also their only score with the team jersey. Nonetheless, not even the strange numerological lore surrounding the event has been able to unearth its hero from oblivion: the game ended with five goals, there are five living Argentine players who have scored goals in world finals (Maradona is not among them), the goal was scored at minute 23 — a number whose components add up to five — and, of course, the shirt of the scorer, José Luis “Tata” Brown, was emblazoned with a number five. To plunge into to the strangest part, legend states that Tata is related to Alexander Watson Hutton, a mythological Englishman who is said to have popularized soccer in Argentina.

Within minutes he was back on the field, this time with a quirk not many noticed: his arm was poking through a hole in his shirt, in a makeshift sling he had created by tearing through the shirt with his own teeth.

Brown, who Carlos Bilardo — the technical director of the Argentine team — used to call Bron, hadn’t even reached the World Cup as a starter. Daniel Passarella was the indisputable sweeper (a virtually nonexistent position in current soccer) and it was only due to a physical ailment that Brown was was able to replace him as a starter. We’re talking about Passarella — a man also dubbed “The Kaiser,” in a nod to the most iconic sweeper in history: Franz Beckenbauer. As destiny would have it, Beckenbauer was occupying the position of technical director that midday for the German team, and became the fifth five in our numerology. His knowledge of Tata’s position is nothing to be scoffed at: Beckenbauer knew that whoever took over as sweeper would be the one to give orders to advance on the adversary’s free kicks, in order to leave the attackers off-sides. Which is why Beckenbauer developed a strategy to enable his offense by block that advance with a player. Bilardo responded to this tactical counterpoint by instructing another player to prevent the blockade. Nevertheless, two minutes into the second half (Argentina was still winning 1-0), a feinted free shot by the Germans confounded the Argentine defense, and the person in charge of blocking Brown’s defender lost his mark; as a result el Tata crashed into Matthäus and dislocated his right shoulder, which sent him right out of the game to get checked by the medic. Within minutes he was back on the field, this time with a quirk not many noticed: his arm was poking through a hole in his shirt, in a makeshift sling he had created by tearing through the shirt with his own teeth.

There are many theories about why a player with that kind of injury would return to the field during a World Cup: the prevailing ones focus on Tata’s height (he was the only defensive player that was almost 6 feet tall) as a key asset against a team known for its air power. Of course, this is ridiculous; with a dislocated shoulder it was impossible to jump and head a ball everyone was fighting over. Others believe that Bilardo wanted to save the substitutes, but that doesn’t quite hold up either: Argentina had made only one substitution throughout the whole game at the 90th minute, and that was only to waste time in an already finished game. The real explanation must be in the words Brown said to Dr. Madero while being examined, probably a product of the impatient insomnia he had been going through days earlier: “I’m leaving this field over my dead body.”

In 1990, el Tata hung up his shoes in the Racing Club of Avellaneda. He was technical director of the Sub-17 for a year, achieving a runner-up position, and for some of the Argentine Second Division clubs, with mediocre campaigns. He still has the shirt with the hole framed in his living room.

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SPAIN

By Álvaro Llorca
Spain vs Netherlands.
July 11, 2010. Soccer City, Johannesburg, SAF.

I still say that the South African World Cup was played on the moon. There was a different gravity at play. That is the only way to explain how slowly the match with Iniesta’s goal played out.

There has not been, in the history of Spain, a better day to sell saints than July 11th, 2010. 115 minutes of the game had gone by and the fans, in the face of penalties, would have entrusted themselves to anything they could get their hands on.

But at that moment Cesc was in the frontal area, aka the waiting room of a goal. The Dutch players were also looking for saints to entrust themselves to, but of course none were there.

Cesc took over an errant ball that seemed to have gone over a school yard’s wall and demonstrated with a single pass to Iniesta that some midfielders are greek geometers, although with more feet than brains.

There has not been, in the history of Spain, a better day to sell saints.

The mind of the Spanish fan had time to travel to South Korea: Will the play be annulled due to being offsides? Will another referee decision leave us at the gates? Back in 2002, the home team beat us. Camacho’s sweaty armpits were a metaphor for a team with more hustle than elegance.

Iniesta received the pass inside the area, controlled it, let the ball bounce, positioned his body… and the Dutch defenders still hadn’t shown up. Which is understandable because, as we said before, gravity was different. Or maybe they’d fallen down some kind of crater.

At that moment, the Spanish fan’s mind sailed off to the United States. The year? 1994. Julio Salinas also had enough time to place his body in the right spot and let the ball to bounce. He had time to process a thousand ways to beat Gianluca Pagliuca, like supercomputer running wild with algorithms. But, instead, he crashed the ball into the goalkeeper’s foot. That time, Luis Enrique’s broken nose was the metaphor for a shattered dream.

Now the goalkeeper was the only thing between Iniesta and the goal. The Spanish footballer shot and a cloud of dust lingered above his boot. The fans could smell it, even the television screens were covered in haze. It was a good while until the dust died down, and you know what happened then.

In that moment, a World Cup being played on the moon seemed more likely than a country with more grit than talent and more bloody noses than a game vision, to do what it did in South Africa.

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USA

By John Washington
USA vs Brazil.
July 4, 1994. Stanford Stadium, Stanford. USA.

In the single second he lost consciousness after the Leonardo elbow blow to his temple, Tab Ramos heard samba music. Or, wait, was it an Uruguayan tango… or, could it have been… Green Day? Sometimes, he heard, that damn song still stuck in his head, my mind plays tricks, but then (on me) Tab was on the turf, shaking his legs like he wanted to shake them off and the camera caught him puckering his face shut in pain and he couldn’t feel his body and for a second the banging in his head stopped and he thought, I don’t want to die, and he knew that it was bad, thinking, Just keep my eyes open, and then closed his eyes and slipped back into a stupor.

For a moment he was back in Montevideo. A splinter of his left malar bone, knocked loose, damming minute cerebral arteries, bleeding others, blood starting to pool, pressing against the brain like a… or is that (the banging back) he thought, the beat of a tamborim, because it definitely isn’t Green Day, or that awful Gloryland World Cup anthem… or it could be the Brazilian fans celebrating the downfall of their Uruguayo midfielding nemesis…?

Tab’s eyes shot open.

A mayhem of stripes and yellow were collecting above him. He glimpsed a red flame shoot into the sky, held high by the French ref, signaling, Tab knew right away, Leonardo’s ejection, and then (always the competitor) he did a quick calculation: we’re not losing yet, though Romario won’t stop shaking his hips, trying to slip one in between Lalas and Meola, and now they’re gonna be down one. Not down a goal, but down a man. Not down like Escobar was down. No, not that Escobar, not the King of Cocaine who’d been down for six months, but the autogolista who put one in for us against Colombia, poor fella, great defender, good man from that upstart South American powerhouse, a country racked by violence and sniff at the same time the US, high as ever, celebrates booming business and even, maybe… skyward soccer…? Because Tab already knew what that codazo would mean for the sport in the US.

No, the ringing wasn’t the Brazilian fans, but the Independence Day rockets to come…

No, the ringing wasn’t the Brazilian fans, but the Independence Day rockets to come…

Yes, more than the Stewart goal against Colombia that put them into the round of 16, it was the Fall of Tab that left US soccer with a big enough If Only… to propel the MLS to solvency, to secure the national team a place in the next 5 cups, getting out of the group stage twice and even putting Tab back on the field as assistant coach 20 years later, in 2014, with the Brazilians now hosting. It was an If Only… that forever changed the nation’s attitude toward the sport, this game of inches played out before the world, inches that surge and sink nations: Bebeto’s ball nutmegging through Lala’s sliding legs, Leo’s elbow straight to Tab’s ducking temple, a game of if only a couple of inches down… or if only a couple of inches up… the passion of a country twisting with the spin of a bladdered ball… a holy post… a quick heel… Maradona’s Hand of God… the Central American soccer war… Baggio’s overshot PK… nothing more trivial in the world, and yet…

There was a tussle above him. Dooley chested away a nosy Silva. Both teams were rushing in, Portuguese and English crass-chattering against each other, up-chucked chins, pumped chests. The trainer whistled for the medics.

But before he was stretchered off, the concussing of the blood still working against his brain, Tab had another vision, saw another version of the If Only… in which his kroif works, the ball sings through Leonard’s legs, Tab highhorses it down the sideline and crosses it into the eighteen where a laid-out Perez headers it past Taffarel into the back of the net and then boom, Independence Day booms into the Stanford stadium, bodies as ecstatic as fireworks shooting out of their seats all across the States… the US scores on Brazil!… Goal! Goal! Go-Go-Go-GOOOAAAALLL!!! Tab saw it all, all of those if only inches…

But then, even in the vision, of course, some of the pain leaks in, his brain already swelling, and in the second half Brazil equalizes. Bebeto sneaks in a little left-footer, and they win, and Brazil would go on to win it all.

But… if only that elbow landed a couple of inches down… if only Tab could have stayed on the pitch…

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HONDURAS

By Hugo Javier Marmolejo
Honduras vs El Salvador.
October 14,2009. Estadio Cuscatlán, San Salvador, ES.

We don’t know how to enjoy success. We don’t even know what success is. It’s a mysterious artifact, rare as an igloo in this United Fruit Company-owned territory. We Hondurans are like this. Success? Yeah right, the concept is pure fantasy. Someone made it up in the North and even there they don’t even believe in it. In Tegucigalpa the only thing we can enjoy is the minutia of the everyday: the sunset, dancing, women, beer, hitting the ball, the misfortune of others. Misfortune — that’s something we especially know how to enjoy, to the point of pathology, according to the newspapers that report two murders a day on average in a city of 400,000 inhabitants.

According to data from the United Nations, this makes us the most violent city in the world.

The day Honduras qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa my couch was a sponge soaking up my adrenaline. I jumped, I screamed, I hugged my dog. I was a happy man, but not because we were returning to the World Cup after so long. Not even because we used El Salvador as a stepping stool to get there. No — I was elated because that night was the night the legend of Chelato Uclés died. I’d posit that there wasn’t a single Honduran that didn’t enjoy his fall.

According to data from the United Nations, this makes us the most violent city in the world.

Chelato’s “murder” was just one more evidence of the natural life cycle of dictatorships: he transitioned from being our caudillo — one who promised us order and progress and took us to Spain in 1982 — to a tyrant of public opinion. The owner of a poorly-sewn ball.

Chelato wanted to swallow all the glory himself. He never had the decency to give credit to his players. Not to that mythical team headed up by Gilberto Yearwood, the best central midfielder ever born in this country, who took refuge as a sweeper in Valladolid; not to the captain “Primitivo” Maradiaga, who even then was unsightly but strong; and of course not to that other stalwart Allan Costly, father to Carlitos who was just born that year.

Nothing. Chelato had built himself a living mausoleum stuffed with his own accomplishments. But who was going to contradict his account when it seemed like his rule over the Selección would be life-long?

That night of October 14, 2009 I had the radio tuned to the match between the United States and Costa Rica — happening at the same time as Honduras was playing La Selecta. As long as we hadn’t scored, we were dependent on Costa Ricato qualify. But suddenly Carlos Pavón appeared. Suspended in the air like a panther mid-leap, he found the ball delivered by David Suazo from the corner of the goal box. And just like in his glory days, Pavón killed it with a header, sending the ball deep into the goal. An epic play. I turned the radio off. There are still those who think the Salvadoran goalie was in collusion with us. I don’t know it for sure. His name was Miguel Montes, and he was later suspended for life from FIFA for helping gamblers in Asia win millions.

So we once again kissed the grass of a World Cup stadium. It tasted like dirt because we didn’t score a single time. But the journey — who can take that from us? We started off against Chile who sunk us by a hair. Later Spain, who wound up the World Champions, began their rash of victories against us. In the last match against Switzerland, the only things in our favor were the four yellow cards the ref gave them.

That’s how we bid farewell to 2010: with many shots but no goal. That’s why if you ask me “What is the Honduran goal you enjoyed the most?” my answer is Pavón’s — the one that killed Chelato Uclés. The one that put Honduras back on the map

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COSTA RICA

By Guillermo Barquero
Costa Rica vs Sweden.
June 20, 1990. Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genova, IT.

It was strange sort of luck that allowed the 1990 World Cup of football to be the first one that I fully remember, the first time I was clearly aware of its players, games, cracks, emotions and furies. My memory of Mexico ‘86 stops at the collector’s album I managed to complete; my memory of USA 1994 was laced with full-on puberty.

Italy 1990, on the other hand, was the birth of excitement. And I remember the privilege of watching Costa Rica there at its first World Cup, in its first confrontation against the soccer titans, in its first battle of muscle, adrenaline, and, above all else, its aura of raw, resigned ingenuity. We watched the sad friendly matches and became frightened by the commentators’ analysis of our rivals: the almighty Sweden, Scotland and Brazil.

Medford kissing the shirt and all of us enthralled, all of us experiencing our first childhood with a newfound fury.

I blur together Costa Rica’s participation with images formed in the space where naivete and surprise meet: cleats, headers, spectacular saves and Medford’s run all the way from the midfield. Medford sweating, Medford opening his arms in order to lessen the resistance of the Italian winds, Medford beating the lunatic Ravelli — they don’t make goalies like him anymore — Medford kicking a cold-blooded fierce cross shot.

Even though we weren’t sure we’d make it to the Round of 16 yet, we followed Medford’s run inch by inch, second by second, recreating Cayasso’s goal (a flawless play by glowing midfielders) and Flores’ header straight into the Swedish nets; Medford getting open, which was made possible by Guimaraes’ head and an unfortunate kick from Ravelli, everyone’s throat burning with screams of excitement that we have not known since, and that remained on that Genoese lawn where the Ticos gave it their all — or, if we remember the courage of those last 90-something minutes, more than their all.

Costa Rica in Italy ’90 was rampart and frontlines.

A trench and a rifle, an artery engorged with blood spilt by futbolistas who weren’t athletes (becoming professionals would come later; so too would the loss of gritty courage) but who could run like 100-meter sprinters. We will always remember the cheers and madness of our people, their arms wide open. Medford, Medford, Medford.

Medford kissing the shirt and all of us enthralled, all of us experiencing our first childhood with a newfound fury.

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BRAZIL

By Marcio Heleno Brodt
Brazil vs France.
July 12, 1998. Stade de France, Saint-Denis, FR.

Brazilians had eagerly looked forward to Sunday, July 12, 1998, when the final game of FIFA’s World Cup would take place at Stade de France, in Paris. Millions of fans gathered in front of TVs at churrascos, bars and in town squares, drinking beer as they excitedly waited for the yellow jerseys to hold the World Cup trophy for the fifth time.

It was a tense game, with the Brazilian team playing the hosts, which had never won a world championship but boasted the hot player, Zinédine Zidane. Brazil, on the other hand, knew they could count on Ronaldo, O Fenômeno, the best player in the world at that time, and Rivaldo, an under-appreciated ace. They had high hopes of earning the title again, for the second time in a row, after doing so in the previous World Cup in 1994, when Romário’s footwork got the ball past goalkeeper Taffarel in a final thrilling penalty kick against Italy, in the United States.

Rumors began to circulate that Ronaldo had refused to play in the final moments of the game.

As the game began, Brazilian fans noticed something was amiss. Ronaldo seemed apathetic, his teammates tense. Nothing happened. The ball went from one side to the other and the zero-to-zero score brought back memories of the World Cup final in the US. Would this game also end with a penalty kick?

An error by Roberto Carlos sparked the defeat. When he bent down to fix his socks, Zidane took the opportunity to steal the ball from the Brazilian defense, cross the field and make a goal in the first half of the game. The Brazilian fans’ enthusiasm was already dampened when Zidane got the second goal, also in the first half. At 48 minutes into the second half, the yellow jersey’s dreams were dashed when Emmanuel Petit gave the final blow. Brazil not only lost, but took a beating. Sadness fell over the country, where fans kept drinking, not in celebration but to dull the pain of the mourning period ahead.

Within moments, rumors began to circulate that Ronaldo had refused to play in the final moments of the game but was forced onto the field by coach Zagallo. Had the player had a seizure before the game? Was he upset about his girlfriend’s recent affair with a Brazilian journalist? Had World Cup sponsor Nike fixed the game in the French team’s favor after threatening to cut Ronaldo’s millions in sponsorship if he did not agree to guarantee his team’s victory at the next World Cup, in 2002 in Korea and Japan?

Conspiracy theories often arise and are widely adopted in response to such inexplicable occurrences. But as suddenly as they had appeared, they were forgotten when Brazil won its fifth FIFA World Cup title in the 2002 Korea-Japan tournament. And just as Brazilians seem to have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to multiple cases of corruption, these ideas have been erased from the collective memory, replaced by hopes of a sixth victory in the current World Cup in Brazil.

Conspiracy theories often arise and are widely adopted in response to such inexplicable occurrences. But as suddenly as they had appeared, they were forgotten when Brazil won its fifth FIFA World Cup title in the 2002 Korea-Japan tournament. And just as Brazilians seem to have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to multiple cases of corruption, these ideas have been erased from the collective memory, replaced by hopes of a sixth victory in the current World Cup in Brazil.

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Every four years, like a latent infection, the World Cup pandemic returns – a fever that won’t break.
We remain in its thrall.
And so, our minds point toward Brazil.
The album of our lives grows longer.

This has been a preview of Remezcla’s new Sports section, launching later this summer. Stay tuned for more content!

Intro
Mexico
Chile
Colombia
Uruguay
Ecuador
Argentina
Spain
USA
Honduras
Costa Rica
Brazil